I hope so much one day to see my family again
Lucy Stevens is a foster carer and a recruitment and placements manager for Eastern Fostering Service. She has previously blogged for The Fostering Network about her experiences looking after a young person from Afghanistan and the asylum process. In this blog Lucy gives us an update on her and her former foster son’s situation in the light of the recent events in his home country.
It’s been a while since I have written about our Afghan foster son who came to live with us when he was 14.
I remember at the time, writing about the hunted look he wore when he first stepped foot over our threshold five years ago. He was young, he was scared, he had seen too much. He possessed not a word of English and simply the clothes he stood up in. If ever there was a fish out of water, he was it.
He lived with us for three years. We cared for him as he processed the trauma he had lived. Not just the cruel, arduous journey he had undertaken but the life that had preceded it. As his story emerged, we learned what life had been like in his village in Afghanistan. We listened while Home Office officials dispassionately noted down his words, eyes on the interpreter. Words conjuring a life with his Mum, Dad, sisters, and brothers caught in a village that swung regularly from Talibanic to Government control and all the way back again. Life in the shadow of a deadly pendulum. A picture emerged of horror. Of fighting. Of guns. Of beatings. Of tyrannical visits by the Taliban. Of an older brother disappearing one day. Of life spent hiding in a bread oven. Of sisters who could not leave the house. Of a father who lost hope. Of a mother caught in a bomb blast. Of the pendulum swinging ever closer. Of nights spent shivering in the desert as the distant gun shots rang out, a macabre lullaby. A story as sharp and unforgiving as the shrapnel that was embedded in his mother’s back.
We saw the impact this life has had on our foster son. The sleepless nights he suffered, the paralysing headaches. He described flashbacks that had him sweating. His mental health was poor as he grappled to live with these symptoms of PTSD. We arranged for therapy for him and tried all sorts of things to help with the sleep and the headaches. But they continued and they continue only marginally less to this day. The scars run so deep and there really is no escape from them. I suppose we always felt quite powerless to help. Doubtful we ever had.
A needle in a haystack
After three years of prayerful searching, we finally found his older brother. This was, at once, a source of great joy, and great anxiety. His brother had been hiding in the UK, terrified, with no support for his spiralling mental health. It was a strange mix of heartache, pride, and admiration I felt when our foster son told me what he had advised his brother.
‘Respect the laws of this country. It is a good country. You can work hard and do well and have a safe life. You must enter the asylum process. You must follow the law. You must respect this country.’
He’s a stickler for the rules.
Over the last couple of years, we have spoken a lot about his brother. We’ve been alongside our foster son as he supports him in his asylum claim. It has been a revelation to hear the words I had spoken to him when he was going through it, repeated into his brother’s ear. It has been a wonder to see our foster son, the younger of the two brothers, stand firm, unshakeable as a source of wisdom and encouragement. To see the man he has become: honourable, honest, tenacious, wise, unfailingly kind. Still supporting his brother as he appeals the devastating decision by the Home Office to send him home. To what is left of home.
Thoughts of home
And now, the unthinkable has happened. Our conversations over recent weeks have been fed by the scraps of news we’ve been able to scavenge pertaining to his region, on whether it has fallen once and for all to the Taliban. Each day is like a ghastly parody of dominoes as the map of this vast country turns red, province by province.
Our talk turns to his dad, to his mum and his sisters. Of his little brother and whether he got out of the country and embarked on his own journey to safety. Unspoken between us is the knowledge of the reprisals the Taliban carry out on families whose sons have fled their attempts at recruitment. Of the women who are raped. Of the girls who are sold into marriage or slavery. The truth is, in all the time our lives have been connected, he has never known if any of his family is alive. Now he is caught on both edges of the blade, in a bizarre oxymoron between the hope that they are alive and the terrible fear that they are alive. What a place to inhabit.
He asks me to pray. He often does, though I am not Muslim. Our differing faith has never mattered to us but brought us closer in our understanding of one another.
I tell him that I pray for him and his family every day. I remind him of the three-year-long prayer that we would find his brother. How it was a miracle when we did. I try to explain the concept of needles and haystacks. I show him that he has direct experience of miracles in his life. They can happen. They do happen. They have happened. They might happen again.
I write to my MP. I try to communicate the plight of my foster son, of his family. I add a line about how well my foster son has done, how he will soon be a fully contributing member of society, when he completes college. I write this because I know this is what my MP cares about. I hate that I have reduced my son to this. But I write on. I try to convey how terrifying what is happening in Afghanistan is, how horrific. I don’t think my MP will care. I tell him what I want him to say to the government, how I want them to act, I ask him to represent me and my views. My MP has never represented any aspect of me, neither do I believe he would remotely desire to.
I contact my foster son again. I suggest he write to the MP. I suggest he tells his friends to do the same. It is something to do while we hope. It is an action. We are doing whilst we are praying.
We speak on the phone. We talk about the silver lining. Could the Home Office send his brother back to Afghanistan now? Is my foster son more likely to get his leave to remain when he has to apply next year? Is it terrible to think these things whilst his family, his people, suffer so? Or is it an acknowledgement that something good can come from something unspeakably bad? Is it just human to cling to these threads of hope?
It dawns on me that hope is all my foster son has. It’s all he’s ever had. As this thought settles, he messages me.
“I hope so much one day to see my family again. Thanks so much for the prayers xx”
It’s all we have, my son.